We have a saying at our park.
“We’re building this plane while flying it!’
While the word picture creates absurd imagery, I believe the saying to be nonetheless true. Our park was the 393 National Park created, almost 6 years ago, and since then we have engaged hundreds of thousands of visitors–with currently only 4 full time staff. Obviously our 2 part time staff, a handful of seasonal workers, and random interns do amazing work, but we truly have not survived this long without volunteers. Yet, we are still putting new signs up, trying to plan events and programs, and do all the behind the scenes paperwork, while operating a visitor center and trying to do interpretation.
We like to send thank you cards and birthday cards to our volunteers, plus include them in a volunteer appreciation banquet after they have logged so many hours. But I wanted to include new volunteers I had recruited into the fold. My coworker and I endeavored to plan a volunteer social where volunteers who have been involved in the past year, regardless of hour numbers, could bring their families for some laid back fun. We tried to plan it the simplest way possible with providing the main dish and utensils, while volunteers brought dishes to pass.
Let me tell you, it was still a lot to get set-up. My coworker used her magic to create some fantastic invitations, and I sent them out, emailed people, and called some who had not received the first two invites. Most of the staff had been telling me it might rain, it might not work out, etc. But I knew anything could happen when an event is outside, so we stuck to it. The day came and volunteers started arriving! Our superintendent was the Master Griller, and my thanks goes out to his wife for helping grocery shop for all the supplies! We had a craft table for children to make masks and enjoy coloring books about Michigan’s National Parks, drawn by a local 12-year old artist. A campfire was started. Games were laid out for young and old alike to play, and the festivities had begun. Oh, and it barely rained 🙂
Two additional aspects of the potluck included a survey that we passed out to all our volunteers to see what they have liked and disliked about our volunteer program. All confidentially, of course. We stressed how much we wanted their input, and encouraged them to be (kindly) blunt. As pens began scribbling away answers, a couple of our seasonal workers began to pluck away at some live music. We opened it up to karaoke a little while into the afternoon, and despite having issues with our wi-fi and, therefore, no lyrics, the musicians actually took requests! A mixture of guitars, a box drum, and mandolin could handle most any tune. Once everything was set in motion, I actually had a chance to eat, as well! The food, mind you, was fantastic. Plus, with a bunch of volunteers hanging around, the clean-up was a breeze.
I was truly a chance to bond with my fellow CVA, who is assigned to the same park as I, but who works in a different county. We had a ball hauling fire wood, putting sides on tents (can you say “vertically challenged?”), and setting up tables and chairs. I dedicate this blog post to all of the River Raisin National Battlefield Park volunteers, and my sweet coworker Athena, and look forward to flying this plane with them for months to come!